27 July 2011

Defining independence down

Barack Obama's place in history depends on each person's perspective. Some people, for instance, may deny that he is the first black President of the United States since, following Toni Morrison's reasoning in the 1990s, Bill Clinton was. However, the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd still sees Obama as a historic first. In her latest column, Dowd explains that Obama is "the first independent President."

Obama, after all, is a new entity. He’s not really a Democratic president. Or a Republican one. He’s the first Independent president, creating his own party.

“Obama’s interests are not the same as the Democrats in Congress in terms of what he needs to do for his own agenda, election and legacy,” said one Democratic strategist, who notes that now the president can benefit from an obstructionist Republican House as a foil.

White House officials dryly joke that the president’s “sweet spot” is his ability to alienate his base and infuriate his foes while falling short of his goals.


This really ought to have earned Dowd an Idiot of the Week nomination, but I'm still reeling from how utterly wrong and ahistorical this statement is. By Dowd's standard of "independence," most of the Democratic presidents of the 20th century were independents, to the extent that their agendas differed from those of congressional Democratic leaders. It's only a recent innovation for congressional partisans to defer to a fellow partisan in the White House, a condition exemplified by Vice President Cheney's power over the Senate in the previous administration. Traditionally, legislators rightly insisted on their equality to the executive branch and their prerogatives under the separation of powers. Partisanship did not require submission to the President or any acknowledgment that he was the commander of the party faithful. So looking at it that way, Dowd doesn't know what she's writing about. And from the perspective of independence, in the absence of any evidence of actual party building on the part of the President, Dowd must take the word "independent" to mean nothing more than "self-interested." It's in Obama's interest to seek the moral high ground from which he can appear to be above the fray, exhorting both parties to compromise, but I don't see him calling the masses to rally around that high ground and form a new electoral entity. Nor does anyone except Maureen Dowd and some disgruntled legislators think of Obama as "independent" in any meaningful sense. It's not that he's the "tax and spend liberal" or "socialist" that the teamongers say he is. It's just that Americans would be able to tell if a President had really called on them to declare independence from partisanship, and the President's hissy fits don't match the description. I suspect that Dowd would not recognize an actual independent if she saw one; worse than that, she might not even be capable of seeing one.

2 comments:

d.eris said...

"This really ought to have earned Dowd an Idiot of the Week nomination, but I'm still reeling from how utterly wrong and ahistorical this statement is."

Not to mention the fact that our first president was also our first independent president!

Crhymethinc said...

Although I agree with much of what you say, I have to disagree with your premise that "...Americans would be able to tell if a President had really called on them to declare independence from partisanship"

Call me a cynic, but I think most Americans are incapable of any critical thinking these days, let alone reading any fine nuances a politician might be capable of projecting.